I’d written some notes when the man sitting beside me picked up my journal and told me he was into graphology or the science of analysing handwriting.
“You’re not happy where you are and you’ll be leaving in a few weeks”, he said.
“I love my work,” I said vehemently, thinking he was real fraud.
And on the surface, it was true. I felt responsible in my position at the office and, although I didn’t realise it at the time, I got my self-worth from being in paid work. I was only working part-time but, trust me, in that time I was a workaholic, always wanting to be the best I could.
Unfortunately, while my head told me one thing, my body told me another. Although I returned to work, things didn’t improve. As I was the only person in the office, I’d have to catch up with all the word that hadn’t been done. The pain in my shoulders and arms would return, and so did the excruciating headaches. At the same time, I created a crisis at work. I got bored doing the same old work. Story of my life, I’m afraid. Once I master something and know how things work, I lose interest. On to the next project.
At my office, however, I started angling to become a union organiser. I thought I enjoyed working with people, which is true in one sense, but what I ignored (or tried to stuff into the closet) was that every time I went out to talk to union members, I had to gear myself up to plaster a confident smile on my face and really steel myself to sally forth and spruik about union matters. What I also never realised until much later was that I subconsciously created conflict with the union president precisely because he was a man who, to my senses, was large and overbearing. Actually, he was quite pleasant. My response was because he brought up stuff to do with my father, something I never realised at the time.
And looking back, I can see that this is how I reacted to every male boss I worked under. Since it involves others, I won’t go into detail except to say that I did not take any criticism well, I was impatient with being told what to do, and really resented the fact that so many male bosses seemed to undervalue the work of their women employees.
Headaches – Behaviour Modification
I did come across a tremendously helpful course which was run by the Psychology Department of the University of Western Australia, aimed at helping people with chronic headaches learn behaviour modification to bring their headaches until control. It was an eye-opener to me. We were all quite driven people, over-achievers, and – to my amusement – I found the dentistry profession was well represented at this course as people were so uptight and nervous around dentists that dentists got uptight and deeply stressed themselves.
It was also another eye-opener in how hard it is for people to change their ways. We had to fill in cards which showed the level of headaches each day and what painkillers we had taken. I remember the course co-ordinator being quite taken aback at the number of pills I was chucking down my throat, mainly because I was self-medicating to get through each day. One of the exercises we had to do was treat ourselves to something special that week and I had decided to get my first ever massage. I had booked with a male therapist and I was very nervous about the whole procedure. He told me to undress to a level comfortable for me and I made it to bra, knickers and petticoat. These days I’m happy to strip right off, especially if I’m having a wonderful Ka Huna massage!
The massage was blissful and I continued having them, with this therapist and then another one later on. I did find that the day after the massage I’d wake with a humdinger of a headache, a truly horrendous migraine which would lay me out for half the night and half the day. I came to realise, however, that it was all the tension I was releasing with each massage. As I started working with the behaviour management techniques we were shown at the course, the headaches gradually abated, for which – even today – I remain truly grateful.
However, and again I’m not going into details to preserve the privacy of those participating in the course with me, I did notice how people simply weren’t willing to change their lives in fundamental ways to relieve the headache problem they were suffering. I was so desperate, I was willing to take on board whatever was suggested. But others made all sorts of excuses. I remember one guy boasting that he’d had lunch, as if this was an amazing occurrence. We all leaned forward to hear the delicious details, only to find him saying he’d had a ham sandwich at his office desk. Our co-ordinator looked at him, then said: “Do you service your car?” He looked puzzled but said yes. Then she asked him if he gave it petrol and oil regularly. Again he looked puzzled and said yes, but we knew where Diana was heading. She said sweetly: “Then you treat your car better than you treat yourself!”
I think it was at this time that I decided I’d throw myself into any course I was taking, regardless of how I felt about it, with the intention of working with whatever I could pick up which worked for me. When I was taking part later in an Inner Child workshop, I’d notice that when a particularly challenging session was coming up, people would fudge it and not turn up.
At this stage, I’d like to say that, if you’re attending a course and you suddenly find you are making excuses to pack it in or skip a particular section, it’s a sure sign that it’s the very thing coming up that you’re trying to avoid which you need to face up to and attend. Because sure as eggs, it’ll be challenging for you but it is likely to lead to insights or changes which are fundamental to your well-being. It may be hard, it may be challenging, but I do feel the end result is really worth-while if you’re truly committed to growing your life.
The massages and treatments I received when the RSI was first diagnosed were, now I look back, the first cracks in the ice castle I’d built up around my family history. I used to get a massage with a therapist who’d comment on the anger he felt in me. So I would simply respond: “Who me?” I never showed anger. It was never allowed in our family. Emotional outbursts were simply forbidden, one of those unwritten rules in our family life. I simply never saw myself as an angry person. Now I look back and see those awful migraine headaches as the tool my body used to try to release the anger and pain I had locked in my body.
After my mother died of lung cancer in 1987, I found I couldn’t talk to anyone about the grief and anger I felt. People were embarrassed about a close family member dying, and shied away from any talk about losing my mum. I guess to I’d had so much experience of bottling up emotions, that I had no idea how to handle this loss. So I decided to go and get some counselling. I found a psychologist in Fremantle, went along for my first session, and I can truly say that my exchanges with this very kind, sympathetic woman were life-changing.
Lucy gave me permission to be angry about my family. It was a quite new concept to me, and I was quite overcome with guilt and shame the first time I talked about my childhood and the anger I felt about my father and the bullying and control I experienced throughout my childhood and into my ‘teens until I escaped to university.
Alongside this counselling, I was also pursuing other alternative therapies, as I was find out that each seemed to peel another layer from me, like peeling an onion. I was getting a better understanding of my body but, best of all, the RSI was less intense, although it hadn’t gone completely. And the migraines had abated considerably as a result of learning to modify my Type A behaviour and take a more relaxed attitude to life.
Actually, I look at all the various healing modalities I’ve followed and think I must sound incredibly neurotic. But when I look at the illnesses I’ve dealt with, overwhelmingly they seem to be structural and psychological. I think this probably reflects the years I’d spent locked down in loneliness, guilt and fear, and the way in which I tip-toed through the healing process in order to cope with what came tumbling out of the cellar where I’d, sub-consciously, locked all my pain and feeling of being so unloved.
Hah! Until I got repetitive strain injury in the early 1980s.
RSI started me off on the road less travelled health-wise as I turned to complementary therapies when the medical profession was unable to provide answers to my health problems.
Don’t get me wrong: I have respect for medicos and the huge advances in medical care. I appreciated hospitals when I broke my leg and ankle in 1996. I have appreciated the power of antibiotics when I’ve had a severe sinus infection, bronchitis and kidney infection. Blood tests, x-rays and so on are a boon.
And just as the general community are incredibly varied, so there are good, bad, indifferent and very conscientious doctors.
I don’t throw the baby out with the just because conventional medical care can’t provide all the answers. But also, when conventional medicine lead me to a dead-end in recovering from RSI, it also led me to query the power of Big Pharma and the industrialisation of medical care which reduces people to dollar figures and profits for the huge pharmaceutical corporations. I also see doctors too often reduced to pen pushers, overloaded with paperwork, bureaucracy and unrealistic demands on what they are able to offer the general public.
I found myself looking for non-medical treatment in the mid-1980s when I got repetitive strain injury. Ironically, at the time I was working in the office of a small union and had been organising publicity about a new work injury, RSI, which was affecting a lot of women working in call centres as, with new computer technology, they could key in input very fast and overuse arm and shoulder muscles.
I simply never believed it could happen to me. I used to keep going on the typewriter long after I felt a pain in my shoulder. I kept expecting the pain to go away but it got worse. It was agonising to move my right shoulder and arm. Then I started getting pins and needles in my left arm and a feeling which I can only describe as rats gnawing away inside me.
At the time my husband, Bryan, was working away from home in Bunbury, south of Perth, and most evenings I would just rest on the sofa and hope the pain would go away. If I tried to do a simple task like washing up, my whole shoulder would seize up and I’d have to stand stock still until the intense pain abated. But as it got worse, so I started getting severe migraines. I’d wake up around 2am with a violent pain starting at the back of my head, working towards the front at the back of my forehead, and for all the world like it was a brass band pounding around at full volume. I’d take headache pills which got stronger and stronger in order to cope. If I was lucky the headache might fade a bit and I could get to work and cope okay. If I was unlucky, I’d wake up vomiting and it was like a vicious cycle – vomiting exacerbated the headache which me throw up more which intensified the headache, and so on.
I had, of course, read all the literature about repetitive strain injury but tried to ignore the fact that it seemed to be happening to me. That was, until one day and I got into the office with my head pounding from another headache and I just sat there crying my eyes out. The union secretary came into the office, took one look at me, and thankfully for me, took charge. I wasn’t capable of thinking straight or taking action of any kind. She made an appointment for me at her doctor’s, got me in early and off I went to see a doctor who not only was incredibly kind, but also very helpful in supporting me through what felt like a nightmare.
She arranged physiotherapy for me but as this was something new on the medical scene, no-one quite knew how to deal with it. By rights – I found out later – I should have seen a rheumatologist, but I was sent to see an orthopaedic surgeon who was a butcher. He wrenched my head back and forward and side to side with the result that the pain got even worse. He told me he could operate and cut a nerve which might help. That sounded very dodgy to me and even more so when I saw a programme on the ABC about a pain centre in Adelaide dealing with patients, many of whom had had the type of operation the orthopaedic surgeon wanted to carry out on me. And as any small step forward I’d made with physiotherapy was wiped out by his lousy treatment and I ended up worse than when I’d first started treatment, I declined surgery.
I clearly remember sitting in my doctor’s surgery, tanked to the gills with anti-inflammatory medication and a soft collar around my neck. I hardly dared to move because the pain would flare up and feel like a knife being driven into my shoulder. My left arm felt as if rats were gnawing it inside. My doctor asked: “Are you feeling any better?” And I had to say no. She looked at me and said somewhat reluctantly; “Well, I don’t think there’s anything more we can do for you.”
Which is a bit depressing, folks. I’d always been on the go, active, restless, eager to get on to my next project. And suddenly I was sitting on a sofa all day, frightened to move, terrified about what the future held for me and very lonely because Bryan was still working down south during the week and home only on the weekends. I knew an older lady who said very kindly (but not very helpfully, to be truthful): “You young folk always think that life is a straight line that you can set out in front of you without any deviations. Life isn’t like that. All sorts of side paths, obstacles and cul-de-sacs happen. It’s life.”
But in a nice little piece of synchronicity (although I’d never heard of synchronicity at the time), I happened to see an advertisement for a reflexology course at the local community centre. I will be very honest and say that the first time I’d ever heard of reflexology was when a friend said she was going to get a treatment with this alternative therapy. I asked them what it was as I’d never heard of it before, and was quite revolted when they told me it involved foot massage. Errr, yuk, fancy getting your smelly old feet massaged! But, as the old saying goes, never say never.
I’ve been absent for a while again as I’ve been working through quite a few emotional matters. Apart from my earlier fall and the death of my dog, Ziggy, I also found out recently that a good friend from my early days in Australia had died a while back from cancer. I found out quite by chance and I was really upset as I had such good memories of him, my time in the student political movement and the freedom I felt to be me when I moved to Australia.
I have also been dealing with how I felt after reading a report about Adverse Child Experiences (ACE) and how these affect us physically and emotionally in our adult life. I’ve mentioned this previously and, as I said then, I felt like I’d been punched in the guts the first time I read about this as it explained a whole heap about my weight issues and also other health challenges I’ve faced such as repetitive strain injury, depression and fibromyalgia.
While I’ve written about this in earlier posts, I talked more about circumstances and emotional effects, than the physical effects. To be honest, I don’t think I could have handled this before, it’s something I’ve shoved under the carpet or down in the cellar. But I think it’s important to write about how early childhood experiences have affected me, in the hope it may be of help to others for whom my experiences resonate, particularly because there is such an upsurge in autoimmune diseases as well as fibromyalgia (which still doesn’t seem to have a particular explanation for its existence, despite various stabs at diagnoses).
As I mentioned above, I felt like I was flying when I arrived in Australia. I’d felt pretty much the same sense of freedom when I was at university, no-one was controlling me and I was running my own life pretty competently, and in both instances – particularly when I’d split up with the guy I’d travelled to Australia with – I was extremely slim. I remember when I got the letter from my parents saying they were coming out for a holiday that my first response was: “Oh, god, I can never get away from them.” When I met my mum and dad at Perth Airport, I sat there sneezing like the clappers, with my eyes and nose running like a sieve. I remember a little boy on a seat near more watching in amazement as I went through tissue after tissue. It was all emotional, of course, but I had no idea what was going on at the time.
In early 1976 I broke up with Jack, the guy with whom I’d travelled to Australia, and I was really on my own. I loved it. My weight dropped rapidly and, when I went back to the office where I used to work, no-one recognised me as I’d got so much slimmer. I do have to say that I in a sexually inappropriate way over the next couple of years – I went through men like they were going out of fashion – the best bit being that I could say good-bye and toddle off to my lovely unit all on my own. Again, this is one of the behaviours which can arise from adverse childhood experiences. All I can say is I’m damned lucky that I didn’t contract a sexually transmitted disease, someone in the world of spirit must have been looking out for me!
And then on April 16th, 1977, I went out to meet a friend for a drink and came home with my future husband. My friend had introduced us, sparks flew, we held hands as we went for a meal with mutual friends, and Bryan came home with me, moved in that night and 38 years later we are still together. We did take a while to do the married bit – we finally tied the knot in the UK in 2004 after living there for a couple of years and getting married a few days before we returned to Australia.
Bryan and I were both very independent people, and we certainly didn’t live in each other’s pockets. We both followed progressive politics as he was a union activist, shop steward and safety officer. I continued a rather lunatic student activist lifestyle, even though I say it myself, until my parents emigrated to Australia in early 1978. And my weight piled on again.
Over the years I’ve dealt with the issues I had mainly with my father. After an incident when I was about 5’ish and got a hiding from my father over a very minor issue, now I look back, he would regularly accuse me of being a liar right through childhood or tell me “I’ll put you over my knee and give you a tanning” if he thought I was misbehaving in any way. He was a real control freak. As I wrote previously, until I was around 14 and, when he pulled that trick one last time, I looked him in the eye and told him if he touched me in any way I’d walk out and they’d never see me again. It worked. I’ve repeated it because I think it’s such an important lesson I’ve learned over the years – you have to stand up to a bully or they’ll keep on hammering you if they think they’ve managed to intimidate you.
However, I really hadn’t twigged that the control issues from my childhood and teenage years actually affected my health. I had a couple of events in the early 1980s – I had acute appendicitis and bled badly during the operation, spent a few days on morphine, getting blood transfusions and now have a 13 inch scar on my lower belly. A bit later I was working for a conservation organisation where we used to print an independent environmental magazine. You had to fix a metal plate onto hooks and then wind the plate onto the cylinder. Unfortunately, one day the person the other side switched on the machine as I was putting a plate onto the cylinder, my fingers were caught on the metal hooks and then fed into the machine. I ended up with two broken and badly lacerated fingers, lost the feeling at the ends of my fingers after I’d been stitched up but, luckily, finally got feeling back a few months later.
What really brought me to a grinding halt, however, was getting repetitive strain injury in my right shoulder and left arm in the mid-1980s. I ended up getting invalided out of the workforce in excruciating pain, and told I’d never work on a keyboard again. I’m going to go into the details in my next post, but it occurred to me – on reading about the ACE study – that I’d ended up tied up in knots physically as a result of being a Type A personality, tense, always doing more than I needed to, in order to be the best and get approval – the approval I never got from my father.
More on that in my next post when I’ll look at all the alternative healing methods I adopted in order to manage my health challenges.